Funding boost will keep Saxlingham Nethergate’s church bells ringing
12:00 06 February 2013
A new generation of bell-ringers will soon be able to join in with a centuries-old tradition at Saxlingham Nethergate, near Norwich, thanks to a funding boost of £100,000.
The history of bell-ringing at the Church of St Mary the Virgin began in 1455 when John Gyles left 13s 4d for the purchase of a great bell for the church, and while the church today has a peal of eight bells, their ageing state has meant it is difficult for new people to learn the craft of bell-ringing on them.
But this is all set to change, as a £100,000 Heritage Lottery Fund grant coupled with about £70,000 donated and raised by the local community, means a restoration project on the bells and the tower of the Grade II-listed church can begin – and a community project about the bells, church and village will run alongside this.
Churchwarden and fabric officer Geoff Blyth said they were very grateful for the money raised and that they were now waiting for a start date for the work. He said once it was completed it was hoped lots of people would get involved in learning the art of bell-ringing.
“At the moment the bells are still useable for people who are experts in bell-ringing, but it is very difficult for new bell-ringers,” he said. “The project is about keeping the history of the bells going because bells have been ringing here since about 1455. It is also about bringing the whole community together.”
The restoration work will see five of the bells – made in 1899 and 1908 – recast. The three oldest bells, dating from the 1600s and made in Norwich, will be replaced and conserved. One will be used as a clock bell while the other two will remain in the clock chamber of the church tower. Work will also be done to strengthen the church tower, and the frame that supports the bells will be repaired.
The Parochial Church Council plans to work with Saxlingham Nethergate VC Primary School and local Scout and Guide groups on an exhibition and project website. Villagers will be able to get involved with events including a visit to Whitechapel Foundry in London, and a church trail will give visitors the chance to learn more about the church. The restored bells will enhance the village’s plans to commemorate the centenary of the beginning of the first world war next year. The last restoration of the bells took place in 1908 and many of the ringers at that time went off to serve in the war. The story of the bell-ringers, one of whom was killed on active service, will become part of the village’s commemoration.
The church still needs to raise about another £30,000 for the project. Anybody who would like to make a donation should call Mr Blyth on 01508 499369.